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06 August 2019

The Construction Revolution: Improving the Industry Through Lean Construction

The construction industry is ready for a change. At a time when more than 70% of all construction projects are completed late and over budget1, there’s a lot to gain by innovating the project-delivery process. On the contrary, staying with the same, dated system results in a lot of loss; each year, the industry experiences around 800 deaths and 1,000 injuries1. As markets face a workforce shortage and rising populations create an unprecedented amount of construction projects, employees are becoming overworked and projects are suffering.

Construction has created a culture of winners and losers, where teams work in silos, collaboration is discouraged, and the biggest losers tend to be clients and workers. Over the past 20 years, global construction productivity has not improved and customer satisfaction is lowering. According to the CII, 94.5% of construction projects fail to meet one or more business objectives. As projects become challenged by intense costs and schedules, and a lack of skilled labor, many construction firms are looking towards lean construction as a solution.

Lean management and construction

Based on the Toyota Production System, lean management focuses on delivering value to customers by reducing waste, prioritizing improvements, and stressing shared responsibility and leadership. When these principles are applied to construction projects, the client defines what is important for the project. All project participants, including the client, designers, contractors, equipment vendors and craft labor, strive to achieve this by working collaboratively with trust and transparency

What is value?

Defined as what the customer perceives as important and is willing to pay for, it includes anything that moves the project closer to completion and anything that cannot be reworked. This is not just about budgets and schedules; understanding why the client is building this project and what they hope to achieve is also vital to understanding true value. By focusing on what is important to the customer, costs can be reduced and projects can be completed quickly. 

Achieving client-defined value

1.) Collaboration, trust and transparency

Though trust and transparency may sound cliché, they are fundamental to the success of lean project delivery. Project participants must align with each other as if in a production line. Each member defines what is needed from the other members, and makes a commitment to meet those needs. During this process, they look to identify waste factors and collaborate to remove or reduce the impact.  

2.) Removal of waste and inefficiencies

According to the Lean Construction Institute, waste is any “effort or resource utilization that does not create value.” The industry has identified seven types of major waste: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, overproduction and defects. Project participants relentlessly pursue the removal or improvement of all activities that are inefficient. In order to succeed, team members must learn to recognize what the customer perceives as waste by constantly reviewing the project delivery cycle to ensure alignment.

3.) Establishing the right environment

Environment is also important for facilitating lean construction projects. Known as the ‘big room’, the physical environment of the project should be large enough to allow for all participants to be located in the same space. This encourages constant collaboration, cooperation and information flow.

The culture on a lean project is different than an ‘industry standard’ project and is the most important aspect of lean construction. Instead of project participants trying to optimize their position at the detriment of others, they are aligned and committed to project success. Team members collectively identify and mitigate risks, innovate and take risks (including failing within reason), focus on continuous improvement, and don’t place blame. There is no room for the outdated, win-lose mentality. If this culture is achieved correctly, it should also yield individual success.

Reaching your goals

The Lean Construction Institute offers resources and tools to teach all project participants how to facilitate and engage with lean construction projects. Common solutions include standardizing processes, construction modularization and Integrated Project Delivery (“IPD”). IPD is an alliance of all of the people who have a stake in the project, working together early and proactively. It embodies many of the lean construction ideas, such as knowledge sharing, collaboration and putting customers’ needs first. The Last Planner System is another lean construction tool; a holistic work planning method that seeks to achieve uninterrupted workflow by creating a set of commitments that connects the worker with the deliverables of the project.

Integrating lean construction principles shouldn’t be overwhelming. They are better for customers and for employees, making it a necessary step to improve construction project delivery. Projects can be built quicker, safer and cheaper, and as more companies look towards lean construction principles, it is time for the industry to start teaching these methods. By working to change the construction industry culture to a less wasteful and more collaborative environment, lean construction projects may finally take off.


1. Seed, W. R. (2015). Transforming design and construction: A framework for change. Arlington, VA: Lean Construction Institute.


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